Should a Christian woman work outside of the home? Do you? Or is it her duty to remain “barefoot and pregnant” as some have suggested, forever precluded from any paid employment? Many have discussed this question and the answers given have varied greatly, but the truth–as in everything–depends not on what people, but on what God, says.
“…be discreet, chaste, homemakers…that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” (Titus 2:5)
When reading the Bible, it is important to understand that unless you are reading the original Old Testament in the Hebrew language, or the original New Testament in the Greek language, you are reading one of its many translations. This does not mean that we do not have access to the genuine Word of God–to the contrary, we can be highly grateful that God has allowed His faithful followers to ensure we have access to what He has said. But we must understand that while as penned by the original writers, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASB), any individual translation might not fully convey the full extent of the meaning of the original text.
What this means is that when we confront difficult passages–ones that require a shift in our paradigm, or that cost us much personally–we should always take the time to examine not only several translations, but especially the particular word or words in question in a Bible study dictionary. In this case, the word translated “homemakers” in the New King James Version is alternately translated “workers at home” (NASB), “busy at home” (NIV), and “keepers at home” (KJV). When you consult a Bible dictionary, you see that the original Greek word used was “oikouros,” which is “from oikos, a house, and ouros, a keeper. A keeper at home, one who looks after domestic affairs with prudence and care.” (Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament). So what does that tell us? What this tells us is that while the various translations seem to indicate that a woman’s place is in the home, the original suggests something broader. An “oikouros” is someone who “looks after domestic affairs with prudence and care.” But what does this mean?
Biblically, a wife and mother is tasked with the primary responsibility for the home. Not merely the physical structure–although this will involve caring for, or delegating the care of, the house–but the people in it, typically her husband and children. She is entrusted with supporting her husband by ensuring her marriage is healthy and her children are growing up into the people God wants them to become. As a means to these ends, there may be times when she will assume additional responsibilities outside of the home to help achieve these goals, but it will be for the furtherance of the well-being of her family, not to replace or usurp her focus on them. To this end, I believe there are two criteria a married Christian woman must examine when considering another responsibility that will take her outside of the home, paid or otherwise.
The first criteria is motivation: why is she doing this? This is a heart issue. Does she want a career, to which everything else in her life will become secondary and subservient? Is she revealing a lack of genuine concern for and investiture in her husband and children? Does she want a lifestyle beyond what is necessary at this point of her life? Or, is this simply a way for her to better help her children become the people they should become, or to support her husband? I think specifically of the mother of older children who takes on work during the day while her children are in school for the purpose of being able to fund their Christian education or music lessons, or a wife who starts a home-based business to help out her husband when he is struggling financially. We need to be creative as wives and mothers in helping and blessing our families and God opens doors to many wonderful opportunities, but we need to make certain we do what we are doing for the right reason.
The second criteria to consider is whether you will be able to continue to look after your primary responsibilities “with prudence and care.” This is a wisdom issue. Will you still not only know what is going on in your home, but have enough of yourself left over–physically and emotionally–to make sure your marriage is healthy and strong, and your children are growing in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord?” (Ephesians 6:4) Not only staying married, but also maintaining a good relationship with your husband–and even simply being there for him–requires effort and attentiveness to what is going on. How many marriages have crumbled because a wife was too preoccupied to see the warning signs of a brewing problem? Yes, a husband is held accountable for his actions, but it really does take two–a wife must support and assist him. Raising children, likewise, is a monumental responsibility, and catching subtle issues that need addressing requires genuine vigilance as well as a physical presence. Would you be able to continue to genuinely look well to the ways of your household? It is important we not over-estimate either our time or our physical, mental, and emotional resources as we honestly answer this question for ourselves.
At certain seasons of our life–such as when we have small children–if we are truthful with ourselves the answer will be that while we can undertake various projects and perhaps even a home-based business, stepping outside our homes for extended periods of time may take too much away from those who need us. At other times–when, perhaps, our children are already away at college–we may be able to bless them most by helping provide financial support. Circumstances vary, which is why it is important to honestly evaluate our particular situation and the effect it will have on those we are responsible for.
So, can you work outside of the home? Many mothers and wives do–some to a favorable outcome, some to their great regret. But as you make your decision, know that it is not God’s heart to constrain us or to make our lives miserable–He’s the One, after all, who promised, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB) His desire is our good and the good of our families, and it is for this reason that He designates responsibilities and provides structure for us.
Help us, as married women, look well–with prudence and care–to the ways of our household. Help us serve You by fulfilling our responsibility of blessing our families in whatever season or circumstance we find ourselves in. Amen.